Oh William! How sweet you are (and were)!

Oh William! How sweet you are (and were)!


I must admit to being a bit of a royalist. Plus I have to admit to being old enough to remember Prince William's first visit to New Zealand as a baby so it is nice to see him return with his own family this week.

In honour of William, Kate and George's visit to New Zealand, we have chosen to write our blog post about ...

... Sweet William.

Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), is a biennial from the Pyrenees which has become a much loved flower in our gardens. In the Victorian language of flowers, Dianthus stands for love, fascination, distinction and pure affection. This pretty little flower can be sown now, in April.

The first British reference to Sweet William dates back to the16th Century when King Henry VIII ordered Sweet William roots to plant at his newly acquired castle - Hampton Court. The origins of the name Sweet William are uncertain but this pretty little flower may have been named in honour of William the Conqueror, or perhaps to commemorate William of Aquitaine.

Single Sweet William has been a favourite in cottage gardens from early days. All Sweet Williams were once much more scented than the varieties commonly available today.

Sweet William is a biennial which easily self-seeds, thriving in full sun and enjoying a soil rich in lime. Sweet William can endure the occasional drought but will blossom over a longer period of time when watered regularly. Visually, Sweet Williams combine well with white blossoms, like Gypsophila and look very pretty planted with Alyssum.

As well as enjoying this pretty flower in your garden, and in posies and bouquets, it's also worth noting that Sweet William blossoms are edible!

How about trying the following recipe for Sweet William Shortbread (from the book "Cooking with Flowers" by Miche Bacher - an absolutely stunning book!).

Sweet William Shortbread


2 Cups flour

1/4 Cup ground almonds

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 Cup butter (unsalted if possible)

1/2 Cup Sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla essence

2 Tablespoons of Dianthus petals


  • Place flour, ground almonds and salt together in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.

  • Add butter, sugar and vanilla and process for 1-2 minutes, until the mixture forms a ball.

  • Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently mix in the dianthus petals with your hands. The dough will be tacky at this stage. Make a log about 45cm long x 5cm thick and roll in baking paper.

  • Refrigerate for about two hours. Can be frozen at this stage for up to one month.

  • Preheat oven to 165oC .

  • Cut shortbread into 5mm thick slices and bake on baking paper for about 20 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Place on a wire rack to cool. Store cooled shortbread in an airtight container for up to ten days.

For those of you who (like me) get very excited when the new Kings Seeds catalogue comes out in July, we are giving you a preview of one of our new varieties...

We are introducing a Sweet William/Dianthus cross this year called Dianthus Sangora Mix - this pretty flower grows to 50cm tall, is lightly scented and very floriferous and resembles a cottage garden pink. It has rigid stems, which makes it very suitable for picking and for bouquets. It will be a great plant to choose for borders, tubs and patios.

The only problem is that you will have to wait until Spring to order it!!

Sweet William Flowers

Maybe we now need a flower called Sweet George?

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